One of the things I love about the real estate industry the most is that there are so many career opportunities. Of course, we read and hear about real estate agents more than any other position because they are front and center of the real estate transaction (as they should be).
But there are many other people behind the scenes who help the real estate team and company thrive. Today, we’re going to focus on two key administrative and operational positions: the executive assistant and operations manager.
Now, some may say it’s simply semantics. Others ask, “What’s in a name?” And even I tend to agree. Do titles really matter? In the grand scheme of things — well, no. If team members are providing exceptional value to the organization, I say, let them choose their title and get on with it.
But I also understand the importance of titles when it comes to clearly communicating with customers, clients, vendors and other business partners outside of the company and team.
So, in the spirit of clarity, let’s first define these two roles because I believe they are actually distinct positions, but are too often used interchangeably in real estate (which could be why they are often difficult positions to fill).
For example, an executive assistant on a real estate team often means operations manager or coordinator, while an executive assistant in any other company looks quite different. Let me explain the difference:
- Executive assistant: Supports the CEO. Works side by side with the CEO or owner of a real estate team or company to ensure their vision is clarified, communicated and executed. Handles the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the executive office. May act as a personal assistant as well.
- Operations manger (aka operations coordinator or director of operations): Supports the team. Serves as listing manager, transaction coordinator and on-the-ground support to team leaders and agents. Creates systems and processes to ensure the company runs smoothly and can sustainably scale. May oversee a team of other administrative support staff.
If your real estate team is large enough, or if you, as the business owner, are involved in multiple projects or companies, then you may need both positions.
For those who are reading this and thinking about exploring your career options in real estate, it’s important to understand the different roles. Yes, on small teams, one person may be fulfilling both of these responsibilities, but over time, they should become distinct roles.
In addition, one will usually get about 80 percent of your time and attention, so make sure you are clear when you are starting out which piece of the role takes priority.
Ready to get started? Here’s what you should know if you are starting out on a real estate team as an executive assistant (as defined above).
1. You should make sure you are working with the right strategic partner and then understand what makes them tick
When you are working side by side with leaders, you will want to make sure your that your skills and natural behavior style complement each other. You also want to ensure that you make it a point to study and understand what makes them tick.
Taking the time to understand their communication style, how they think, how they make decisions, how they hire, how they lead, and what their goals and vision are for the company are critical to your effectiveness in the role. In this role, your leader will be your biggest and most important “project” throughout your career.
2. You will need to know what your leader knows
One of the simplest and most effective ways to succeed as an executive assistant is to make it your mission to know what your leader knows. Simple, but not easy. This requires diligence and a proactive mindset, especially if your executive is very learning-based and growth-minded.
For example, making sure you read their emails and study their communication style is easy enough to do. But you will need to go above and beyond and make sure you are watching the documentaries they are, reading the books and articles they are reading, listening to the same podcasts, and subscribing to the same email newsletters they are.
Why? Because it will help you get on the same page as them that much faster. You will be able to anticipate their needs, learn how they think and proactively offer solutions to challenges, which will ultimately make you an invaluable asset to your leader.
3. You will have to lead without a title
It would be much easier to waive a business card around with “boss” in bold on it, but as an executive assistant, you are up against some old misconceptions about the role. Regardless, you must learn to lead with confidence and influence to get the job done.
You will have to be 100 percent OK being behind the scenes and not getting credit for your work, but at the same time getting fulfillment from knowing you have a massive impact on the leader and the overall trajectory of the organization.
4. You will need to be the truth-teller
Someone has to be the one to tell the emperor when he has no clothes. As an executive assistant, you are uniquely positioned to be that trusted adviser, confidante and teller of truths to your leader.
They do not need a yes person by their side — they usually have enough of those. What they need is someone to check them and to tell them what others won’t. Trust like this is built over time, and you can get there faster by over-delivering on what you say you are going to do, maintaining the utmost confidentially and loyalty to your leader, and yes, by telling them hard truths when no one else will.
It’s is not about who is right or wrong; it is about seeing all sides of an issue and then finding the truth that aligns with their mission and vision. Then, you can all move forward with clarity and purpose from that place of alignment.
It is not always a comfortable place to be, telling the leader of an organization something that they might not want to hear. However, I believe as an executive assistant, it’s part of your responsibility and duty to your leader and the team to do those hard things. That’s what leadership is.
5. This is a career, not a job
Being the right-hand person to a leader is not an easy gig, but it is a massive career opportunity. It is not just a stepping-stone to another position but a dynamic and high-impact role on its own. Not many other people in a company get to work alongside and learn directly from the leader and CEO.
The chance to help a leader be more successful, plan major meetings and events, help make decisions that impact the company, or lead special projects are all in a day’s work for an executive assistant. But it is much more than a job. The dedication and commitment day in and day out, coupled with the desire to grow and lead from behind is what sets great career executive assistants apart.
Here’s what you should know if you are starting out on a real estate team as an operations manager (as defined above).
1. You will fail forward
You will make mistakes. Be transparent and communicative about them, so your team can head off problems as soon as possible. Nothing in real estate is a true emergency. Be open to growth, and use failures as opportunities for improvement.
2. You won’t work a 9-5
When agents are working, you will be working. You can put systems and tools in place to help you, but you may need to check in on nights and weekends to support your team. Take advantage of the lulls and slower times of the year to compensate for the busier times.
3. You will need to ask for guidance from those who have come before you
There are nuances in real estate systems and tools that others have figured out already. Don’t spend time spinning your wheels or trying to reinvent the wheel. Consult real estate operations groups for information.
Consult known experts in the space. Get a coach or take a training course. Typically, other operations folks are very giving of their time and expertise — utilize it!
4. You will need to leverage systems, tools and other people
You can’t do everything on your own. Always be thinking about efficiency and scalability through the systems and tools you utilize and implement. Leverage off tasks to other team members who might be better suited for a given task than you.
Streamlining your systems, tools, models and checklists is the best way to do more in less time.
5. You will need to learn how to mirror and match — and work with a variety of personality types
In real estate, you will work with some very high Type D personalities who might come off as dominant, abrasive, fast-acting and not consumed with the details. You may also work with clients who need to know every detail of every part of the transaction.
The sooner you learn how to work with a variety of people and personality types, the better. Ensure you study the DiSC Profiles and pay attention to behavior. Learning to adapt your communication style will make you a very effective operations manager and leader.
These roles offer two really great career paths in real estate outside of a traditional agent path. But they both have a few things in common. These individuals will be force-multipliers, they will be resourceful, strategic thinkers, implementers, creative problem solvers, responsive, driven, dedicated and adaptable. Does that sound like you? Then you may want to explore a administrative or operational career in real estate.
Adam Hergenrother is the founder and CEO of Adam Hergenrother Companies, the author of The Founder & The Force Multiplier, and the host of the podcast, Business Meets Spirituality. Learn more about Adam’s holistic approach to business here.